Monday, July 15, 2024

Obedient Unto Sickness

A Reflection by Mother Petra

During the Great Fast, we were blessed to visit the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.  We arrived in time to join the nuns for prayer in their chapel at noon, then joined them for lunch, spent the afternoon in conversation and sharing, prayed Vespers with them, and departed for our own monastery. 

In these nuns, who have decades more experience than our young monastery, we saw a mirror of the beauty and significance of our own monastic life.  A friend recently said to me, “Sometimes, while I’m driving around running errands, I remember all of you here, praying in your chapel, and I think—that’s why the world continues to exist.”  Of course, being immersed in our life, I don’t have any such sense myself!  Yet as I stood in their chapel, I looked upon these beautiful nuns and glimpsed the same reality:  Faithfulness like this upholds the world.  Like Abraham before the Face of God, interceding for Sodom (“Will You spare it for ten righteous men…?”).

We were moved by our conversations with the nuns, and grateful to receive spiritual wisdom and insight both from Mother Christophora, their abbess, and from the other nuns.  At once point, the topic of sickness in community emerged, and I asked Mother Christophora if she would speak about illness in the monastic life.  She explained that, upon entering the monastic life, it is a common experience to become ill.  Perhaps this is an attack of the evil one to discourage a young monastic, perhaps it is trial permitted by the Lord to try her vocation or purify her motivations, perhaps it is simply the natural result of the real intensity of our monastic life which takes a toll on the body.  But then she shared words of Fr. Thomas Hopko which deeply impressed each of us:  “In this country we don’t have elders, so our illnesses are our elders because they teach us obedience.”  She concluded with her own observation, “Afterall, He [Jesus] didn’t say ‘Take up your cross and fight it’!”

So often, it can seem that illness is an impediment to “real” life—keeping us from fully participating in liturgical prayer or other forms of asceticism, from fasting or keeping vigils to the extent we would desire, from accomplishing as much work as we would prefer, from accepting invitations to give talks or spiritual direction.  Yet isn’t this thwarting of personal expectation, desire, and preference the very definition of asceticism?  Bishop Benedict Aleksiychuk of Chicago recently commented to us that illness is an asceticism the Lord is giving us; we are not choosing it.  Therefore, it is a better asceticism because there is no self-will in it, but rather has the purity of coming direct from the mind of God. 

As a nun who has poor health, I am often pained to see the strain my illnesses place on my sisters.  But what a paradigm shift if we came to see each of these limitations, not as arbitrarily imposed by circumstances beyond our control, but rather as an invitation to deeper surrender and obedience in conformity to the will of the Father!  Since our visit, we have begun referring to our diagnoses as “elders” and “eldresses,” coming to recognize the necessities and treatments (all of them inconvenient!) as an obedience—an asceticism—given by the Lord to the whole community. 

I hope those of you who suffer from illness in the world will also be granted grace to trust that nothing touches you that does not pass through the hands of the Father, and that He knows what He is asking of you:  Perhaps not the service or work you desire to do, but trustful rest, slowing down, the willing sacrifice of pain offered to the Lord with faith in His goodness and power to transform our suffering so that it, like Christ’s, becomes a source of redemption in the world and in our own souls. 

I was recently reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the Sacrament of the Sick.  It teaches that “in a certain way he [the sick person receiving the anointing] is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior’s Redemptive Passion.  Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus.” Further, the sick Christian “contributes to the sanctification of the Church and to the good of all men for whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to God the Father.” (CCC, 1521-1522, emphasis mine).  Sickness is not useless, not meaningless!!!  Our surrender to the Father’s will in our sickness is tremendously significant work!  This does not mean we do not seek to alleviate suffering (we should!), but when our efforts fail, or when the treatments themselves prove to be a form of suffering (or, at the very least, inconvenience), let us pray for deeper faith to bow in obedience to the will of God revealed in our circumstances.  Let us cry out with Jesus in the Garden—after pouring out our pain and distress to our good Father, Who attentively gathers all our tears and holds us as we weep—“Yet not my will, but Your will, be done.”  May we be so conformed to Christ, the Obedient One Who was “obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:8), that we consent to be obedient unto sickness, as long as the Lord allows.

Mother Petra praying at the grave of Mother Alexandra (born Princess Ileana of Romania), the foundress of The Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration, whose life and writing were significant in her own monastic formation.


Monday, July 1, 2024

Early Summer Updates: A Time of Gratitude

Early summer has been for us a time of gratitude for the Father’s provision and care.  We want to thank all those who came out for our Spring Work Day!  Many families and individuals joined us for several hours of work projects around the monastery, chapel, and grounds.  After our labors, we prayed Vespers together down at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch, and enjoyed visiting over a potluck dinner.  It gave us joy to be able to fellowship with you, your help eased our burdens.

 A few weeks ago, Olivia (formerly known as Sister Onuphria) discerned that the Lord was not calling her to continue in our monastic life.  She asked us to share with you her gratitude in the following message: 

Thank you to everyone who has been praying for me over the last three years since I entered the monastery. I'm so grateful for your support, and I am especially grateful to the nuns for all of their sisterly love, generosity, and prayer during my time in the monastery and now as I continue on. The last three years have been a tremendous gift. I love the nuns so much and so deeply appreciate my time at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery. Please continue to pray for me while I transition back into the world. 

We are grateful for the years when we were blessed to share daily life with Olivia!  She has our love and prayers as she continues to pursue the Lord.

Earlier in the month, Bishop Benedict (Venedykt Aleksiychuk) of Chicago graced us with his prayerful presence by bringing three of his priests to pray Vespers with us.  We are grateful for the opportunity to pray with our fellow Eastern (Ukrainian) Catholic fathers and brothers!

Our garden is delivering a beautiful yield, both in the form of sunflowers and other blooms, and edible produce.  Several volunteers, both volunteers on the Work Day and also others who offered the gift of their time and energy afterward, helped us put new soil in our raised garden beds.  Now we are reaping a harvest of parsley, arugula, chard, blueberries, and more.  We grateful for the gift of participating in God’s work by cultivating the natural resources He has given us.  

Finally, we were grateful for, and delighted by, the Mullins’ Family’s second annual “Ora et Labora Vacation.”  Don, Rachel, and their children (Eric, Samuel, Amelia & Margaret) camped down at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch for a week, doing work projects both at the shrine and here at the monastery, spending time together having fun as a family, and joining us for prayers in our chapel.  They brought such energy and love with them, both to prayer and to work!  Their final evening, they invited us down to the shrine for dinner, where Rachel cooked a delicious fast-friendly Indian dinner.  We are grateful for their friendship, faithfulness, and their service for the Lord.

Please remember our first ever Summer Picnic is coming up on Saturday, July 6—and you are invited!  We’ll gather at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch (across the street from the monastery:  17486 Mumford Rd., Burton, Ohio 44021) for Vespers at 4:30 p.m. in the outdoor chapel, followed by a picnic dinner.  We’ll be happy to visit with you until around 8:30 p.m.  For those who have never visited the monastery before, we’ll be glad to give you a brief tour of the monastery and chapel.  Please bring your own picnic dinner and beverages.  You may also want to bring a picnic blanket or lawn chairs in case we run out of room at the shrine’s picnic tables.  If you plan to attend, RSP using this form so that we can have enough booklets available for Vespers and notify you if anything changes. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

New Issue of Pomegranate Blossoms

After a long hiatus, we finally published a new issue of Pomegranate Blossoms

Some of the "news" isn't so "new" at this point, but we still hope you enjoy the photos from our chapel renovations, a letter from Mother Cecilia, photos from Mother Cecilia's institution as hegumena, and more!

Monday, June 17, 2024

Mother Theodora granted exclaustration

Mother Theodora, of her own volition, petitioned for and has been granted exclaustration (leave of absence) from the monastery for two years. We greatly value your prayers during this time of discernment. 

She will use her baptismal name, Celeste, during this time. According to Canon Law, during exclaustration a nun does not wear the monastic habit. 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Our First Ever Summer Picnic - Saturday, July 6th

We'd like to invite you to our Monastery Summer Picnic on Saturday, July 6, 2024. This is the first time we're doing this, and we're looking forward to this opportunity to welcome anyone who would like to come to pray, eat, and spend time with us. For the sake of space, we will gather at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch (across the street from our monastery) for Vespers at 4:30pm in the outdoor chapel and then a picnic dinner following. We'll be happy to visit with you until around 8:30pm. For those who haven't visited the monastery before, we'll be glad to give you a little tour of our monastery and chapel. 

Please bring your own picnic dinner and beverages. You may also want to bring a picnic blanket or lawn chairs in case we run out of room at the shrine's picnic tables. 

Please RSVP using this link so that we can have enough booklets available for Vespers and notify you if anything changes. 

The address of the Shrine is 17486 Mumford Road, Burton, OH 44021. Please give us a call (440-834-0290) or send us an email ( if you have any questions. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Spring at the Monastery

We hope you all are having a blessed celebration of Pentecost! 

We're really enjoying this spring season. For community recreation a couple weeks ago, Mother Cecilia took us on a little adventure down to the Shrine to give us a spring wild flower tour. It was very beautiful. This past week, as we walked outside to go to Vespers, many of us were shocked that the trees suddenly had leaves. These little changes have been accompanied by the movement from the Great Fast, into Pascha, and now, Pentecost.

We had a blessed Great and Holy Week. We were very grateful to be joined by Bishop Robert, some faculty and seminarians from Saints Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Seminary in Pittsburgh, and many other priests and faithful for our patronal celebration of Bridegroom Matins on Holy Wednesday. It was truly beautiful. 

We were very grateful to have a joyful Pascha. All of the rest of our life doesn't compute without the Resurrection, and it's wonderful to get to express that in the liturgy and in other paschal festivities. During Bright Week, we enjoyed the short, joyous liturgical prayer, some much needed free time to recover from Great and Holy Week, and time as a community. You can find more photos of these celebrations here

On April 8th, we got to experience the total solar eclipse around 3:15pm. It was very exciting that our monastery was in the path of totality. We were all able to watch the world transform around us, in this place which is so familiar to us. It was really amazing to see everything go dark and feel an evening-like chill settle over everything. The eerie light cast strangely sharp shadows on the ground. The roosters at the neighboring farms started to crow and the birds, bugs, and frogs joined in with all of their various sounds as the eclipse approached totality. It was really an amazing experience. 

The week of the eclipse, Mother Natalia ventured out West with Wyoming Catholic College. They asked her to be the spiritual director of their women's poustinia trip. She visited the college briefly, and then the group set out for the desert of Moab and spent a few days in silence and prayer in the wilderness.

Recently, Mother Cecilia, Mother Gabriella, and Mother Natalia went to Long Island for the CMSWR's annual Formators' Workshop. They were surrounded by about 130 other women religious and received some good support for their roles in giving formation to discerners, dokimoi, and rasophores in our monastery. This is the third year we have participated in the workshop. 

While some nuns were at the formation workshop, Mother Iliana and Sister Onuphria drove down to Steubenville, Ohio, for part of a day to record an episode of Franciscan University Presents. Mother Iliana talked about her book, The Light of His Eyes, with the show's host, Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, and panelists Dr. Scott Hahn and Dr. Regis Martin. The show will air on EWTN sometime in October, and we'll be sure to let you know when it does. 

Finally, we are so grateful to all who have helped us with work around the monastery lately. We really couldn't keep the monastery going without you. We are especially grateful to the group who came out a week before our work day to take care of this tree (photo to the left) that fell in a wind storm earlier this spring. We are also immensely thankful to God for the success of our spring work day. Thank you to all those who came and helped us with a plethora of outdoor and indoor work here and at the Shrine. It was so great to get to spend time working, praying, and visiting with all of you. We're so blessed to have your help!

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Join us for our Spring Work Day on May 18th!


Volunteers helping us weed and mulch a garden.

The world is beginning to turn green again, and you know what that means! It's time to invite you all to our Spring Work Day! 

We hope you can join us for a day of outdoor and indoor work projects, prayer, food and fun at the monastery and the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariapoch on Saturday, May 18. Volunteers of all ages and abilities are welcome! The day begins at 1:30 p.m. and closes with Vespers at 5:00 p.m., followed by a cookout. Come whenever available, and please bring a side dish to share. The monastery is located at 17485 Mumford Rd. Burton, Ohio. Please RSVP using this online form by Monday, May 13th, so that the appropriate amount of food can be prepared. 

Some tools to bring that may be of help: shovels, trowels, work gloves, wheel barrow, pruning sheers (please mark your name on tools). We may also have a painting project, so consider wearing painting clothes. Thanks!